Representation of disability in the workplace is a big issue, with a ‘cultural shift’ necessary to ensure disabled workers are empowered. Who’s driving progress?

One-fifth of the working population have a disability. And for a very long time, there was very little being done to ensure disabled people were included in the workforce. Thankfully this is changing, as more businesses try to include, amplify and develop this hidden workforce.

They’re promoting them too. According to a recent report from the IGD, more than a quarter (28%) of companies surveyed had at least one physically disabled leader at board level – up from 15% two years ago.

With ads from the likes of Mars, Vanish, Müllerlight and Pantene, we’ve grown used to seeing disabilities portrayed in commercials, but Sainsbury’s broke new ground recently by using deaf staff in its ad to promote low prices. It shows companies are ready to make a virtue of their diversity & inclusion policies.

However, there remains a lot of work to be done, according to BRC CEO Helen Dickinson, “to embrace great talent from all backgrounds, all the way from the storeroom to the boardroom”.

“Retailers can still do more to embrace great talent from all backgrounds, all the way from the storeroom to the boardroom”

Helen Dickinson, CEO at BRC

Action is being taken to help integrate this talent, from big structural changes to smaller everyday actions. Sarah Munday, equity, diversity & inclusion and wellbeing manager at Britvic GB, believes the industry is “making strides in prioritising” these changes but it takes a “concerted effort”, and requires “accessibility, education and listening”.

Caroline Cater, VP of people & culture at CCEP, agrees there is a new mindset needed “to listen to employees and make adjustments based on what they’re seeing and feeding back to you, and then offering a level of leadership support”.

Sainsburys disability Lanyard

Retailers have long since embraced the sunflower lanyard, which tells people the wearer has a hidden disability

Another company taking great strides is Diageo, which is running multiple programmes and has published disability inclusion guidelines. As its HR director Ednah Otieno says, “everybody should be able to thrive in an environment that values their contribution and celebrates what makes them unique”.

However, getting inclusion on the agenda is just half the battle. According to Russell Price, chair of the Disability Network at Tesco, “there needs to be a cultural shift”. According to Scope, 54% of employers said they had concerns over a disabled employee’s ability to do the job, while 28% of disabled people who had fallen out of work said they’d experienced discrimination at work. It’s understandable, then, that Price says “there’s a lack of confidence with… employees being comfortable identifying as disabled”.

Storytelling has a key role to play in boosting confidence, says Cater. She’s found that when business leaders have told their story publicly, it’s given confidence to others in the business to come forward and show they’re welcome and represented at every level.

One massive positive is that there are many workers across the industry who are challenging stereotypes and building up the role of disabled employees. Those that are doing this work deserve to be championed, which is what this feature is all about. Here are five people in the industry leading the way.


Mona Shah, Harry Specters

Harry Specters Ash, Mona, and Shaz

Source: Harry Specters

Mona Shah of Harry Specters chocolate (centre), along with husband Shaz (r) and son Ash (l)

In 2012, Mona Shah and her husband Shaz set up Harry Specters, an award-winning chocolatier providing employment opportunities for people with autism, inspired by their son Ash.

“At the time, only 15% of autistic people were in any kind of employment, and the main reason was that people just weren’t open to hiring them,” she explains.

Shah talks passionately about the potential autistic workers who are being passed over. They are the reason she and her husband founded the company. While Shah has no background in manufacturing, she took a two-day Academy of Chocolate course and realised that type of work would be very suitable for autistic people like her son because of its processes, rules and how sensory it is.

Harry Specters is a social enterprise, though Shah is keen to “dispel the preconception people have about buying from a charity” and make a really good product that’s not just “about the cause”.

It won the Channel 4 competition Aldi’s Next Big Thing in 2022 and Shah hopes it will be in mainstream multiples sometime soon.

The enterprise works towards the mission of showing that autistic workers are just as competent as neurotypical ones. “Their intelligence and conscientiousness is brilliant,” Shah says of her staff.

The business started at the back of their family home, but is now in a 3,000 sq ft unit. It has given nearly 500 autistic people employment or work experience.

She hopes her business boosts the confidence of her staff, helping them get jobs elsewhere – something she actively encourages.



Georgie Hill-Jones, Waitrose

Georgie Hill-Jones Photo

Source: Georgie Hill-Jones

Georgie Hill-Jones has worked his way up to team leader at Waitrose

Georgie Hill-Jones has worked across the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) for nearly 20 years, starting in store before getting a role at head office in 2022. He works in the ability team, part of the democracy side of the business, which allows partners to have a say in how it operates.

Hill-Jones, who is deaf and autistic, supports with campaigns, records audio captions for blind, partially sighted and neurodiverse partners, runs deaf awareness training and provides advice on next career steps and the support available for disabled colleagues.

A difficulty for the ability team is trying not to make it too focused on one type of disability or set of lived experiences, he explains. However, it is becoming increasingly data-led, enabling it to become “laser focused” on the partnership’s demographics.

When asked how to make the industry more inclusive, he says it is “all about having conversations”, even if they’re difficult and uncomfortable, as they lead to “better awareness and openness”.


Russell Price, Tesco

Tesco COBC.1999

Source: Tesco

Russell Price is chair of Tesco’s Disability Network, which ‘raises awareness and is led from the top’, he says

“Some people are born with a condition, many more will develop a condition, some will have an accident. This should never be a barrier,” says Russell Price, chair of Tesco’s Disability Network.

Price has worked at Tesco for 20 years and for two years has chaired the network, whose strategic vision is that every decision made at Tesco should consider those with a disability – whether a colleague or customer.

In Price’s words, the network is a “hub of experts” that “listens to feedback, raises awareness and understanding and is led from the top with role models at all levels of the business”.

“We hold a mirror up to the business to ensure they prioritise key areas, but we also leverage the power of the network to provide stories and soundbites of lived experiences,” he explains.

The network makes logistical changes, such as workplace adjustments and accessibility projects, but also improves awareness and provides training and learning content.

Part of his role heading up the network, in his opinion, is to “lead by example on being disability confident”.

Price was diagnosed with Parkinson’s eight years ago and is focusing on “providing rewarding careers in an environment that welcomes everyone, and where the overarching focus is on ability not disability”.


Caroline Cater, Coca-Cola

Caroline Cater Sept 23

Source: Coca-Cola

Caroline Cater is vice-president of people & culture at CCEP

Caroline Cater recently made a lateral shift away from the commercial side of Coca-Cola Europacific Partners in order to focus more on diversity, inclusion and people.

“Considering how much time we spend at work, it’s important that everyone feels welcome, safe and supported,” she says.

CCEP works to improve diversity and inclusion across six main pillars including disability, or ‘This Ability’ as it’s called at the company.

This Ability works across three key areas – talent, accessibility and awareness – and is made up of nearly 70 members who are “helping to shape the changes we need to make to provide the support that will help all of our colleagues thrive”.

Cater says all businesses need to be receptive to feedback.

“In some cases, the changes may only need to be small, but whether that means modifying practices in factories, leaning on the support of external experts or ensuring there are internal working groups that feed back to leaders, we need to ensure there are plans for constant improvement in place.”


Haidee Elise, GroceryAid

Haidee Elise

Source: GroceryAid

Haidee Elise is head of diversity and inclusion programmes at GroceryAid, a UK charity that was founded in 1857

“If we want to futureproof our industry, plus attract and maintain a diverse workforce, being inclusive has to be a priority,” says Haidee Elise, head of diversity and inclusion programmes at GroceryAid, a UK charity that has been providing support for people in grocery since 1857.

GroceryAid has run the Diversity & Inclusion in Grocery programme for more than five years, and it recently put in place a maturity model to help partners and the industry track tangible progress. It has also provided 12,562 learning hours across 64 topic areas for industry colleagues and offers a wealth of learning resources.

Elise has held this role at GroceryAid since September 2022, previously working at IGD across multiple programmes and projects in her 10 years at the organisation. She is passionate about helping fmcg businesses accelerate their D&I journeys.

Elise is particularly keen to highlight that not all disabilities are visible, and she speaks of excellent work being done across the sector to support colleagues with neurodivergence or hidden disabilities, including providing quiet spaces or flexible working options.

“A unique aspect of the programme is the ability for us to connect partners together and encourage sharing as much as possible,” she explains.